But FBI Director Webster’s reply came pretty quickly.
It was brief: the FBI had reviewed their files and had found nothing that implicated me in any of the “dossier” allegations. McCloskey gave me a copy, which I framed, and hung on my man cave wall. (After all, how many other people do you know who have a letter personally signed by the FBI Director saying the Bureau has no evidence they’re a KGB mole? But after my several moves, it’s now somewhere in a box of other personally important documents. I should hunt it down; after all, you never know . . .)
But McCloskey was not done. Working from the FBI letter and my notes on the “dossier,” he reserved time on the floor and made a hard-hitting speech to the House, (okay, the chamber was nearly empty) denouncing LaRouche and defending my integrity (and, by extension, his own). I had copies of that speech, too, but they are also lost in my paper shuffle, and the 1980 Congressional Record is not yet online. So for now you’ll just have to take my word for all this.
With this done, I retreated to the calmer seas of maritime policy. Finally, here was another opportunity for me to forget LaRouche. He was still busy, though, running repeatedly for president as a Democrat; then by 1988 headed for a federal prison for having run a large telephone fraud scheme.
His minions called elderly people and badgered them to authorize credit card “donations” for “anti-drug” programs. Once the caller had the credit card numbers, many of the donations ballooned from $10 to $1000 or more, a scam that first brought LaRouche many millions of dollars. And then it yielded federal felony convictions for fraud and tax evasion.
Again, I paid little attention. I learned just recently that LaRouche was prosecuted by a little-known but relentless Justice Department lawyer named Robert Mueller; LaRouche ended up serving five years in prison.
Even so, if I was finished with the LaRouche saga, it was not yet finished with me.
When I moved to the DC suburbs in Virginia, I soon settled into a Friends meeting near CIA headquarters, Langley Hill. My job with Pete McCloskey ended in 1981 when he ran for the Senate (and lost).
Although I missed the paychecks, I wasn’t sorry to leave the Hill. Much more congressional business, I had learned, was a lot closer to the arcana of maritime policy than the sensationalized confrontations one can watch on TV. In fact, I realized it takes several hundred (thousands?) reporters working fulltime to maintain the illusion that everything there is dramatic & exciting. Back in the freelance world, I struggled to get regular work, and in 1985 found my way to the Postal Service. I was still writing, mostly about Quaker topics.
I was also pretty regular in attendance at meeting (as the Queries starchily advise). Looking back, it seems that the world — between really big wars — was relatively quiet.
That was, of course, too good to last.
One First Day morning at Langley Hill, as I was settling in, the latecomers were let in. Among them was an old man, shuffling, looking somewhat confused, in a rumpled dark suit. He sat down, and I paid little mind.
Halfway into the silence, he stood. Gazing vacantly into the distance, he recited a stanza that sounded familiar:
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.
Wait — I knew that verse. Then he said that we should pray hard, because there was going to be a big war.
(I believed him, though his prophecy was a few years early. )
Next he warned us against falling into a terrible sin, that of — cremation. Cremating our dead loved ones was very wrong, he said, because it meant that they would not have a part in the general resurrection of the dead when Christ returned.
(I hadn’t heard that one, and he didn’t explain.)
Then he sat down. He had only spoken for a few minutes; which was a relief.
The voice was familiar, though worn with age and blurred with confusion, like an old AM radio not quite tuned in.
He was back the next week, and coming late myself, I saw he was delivered by car, with a distracted-looking driver.
Again he rose, and began once more with the poetry:
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea . . . .
And followed with the warnings about war and cremation.
Now I remembered: it was Lyndon LaRouche, Senior. Bits of information leaked in behind him: he was now living with a daughter and son-in-law, whose house was nearby. Conditions there sounded iffy: this was, it appeared, his one weekly excursion away from the house. His hosts did not come into meeting and didn’t speak. Someone did manage to get an address and phone number from him.
He kept coming, and spoke every time, still briefly, usually on the same themes. As the weeks passed, the voice grew more blurry. And there were others besides me who found the messages disturbing. One older woman in particular, recently widowed, complained bitterly to what was called our Overseers Committee. When her husband died, she said, his body had been cremated, as planned. Senior’s messages felt ghoulish; hearing this observance repeatedly described as some kind of terrible sin, and a warrant for damnation triggered her grief and fear.
I felt for her. He unsettled me too, though for very different reasons. What could we do? I don’t know if anyone spoke to (“eldered”) him. If so, it didn’t affect his messages. After a few months, though, my reactions softened: I saw that the meeting as a group was ministering to him, by taking his ramblings into our silence, as he lumbered alone down the dim home stretch of life. I came to feel that, as long as his messages stayed brief, they were tolerable.
This might not seem a big deal for some readers. For me it was a significant spiritual achievement, a form of “loving our enemies,” or at least those connected with them. That it happened quietly, as I sat in meeting and fidgeted, doesn’t diminish it. I admit it was aided by the clear sense that his son was not around, thus unlikely to bother Langley Hill, or further stir my own lingering traumas. (Looking at the chronology, Junior was not far away: his headquarters was then in Leesburg, Virginia, about an hour west. At the time, besides plotting to take over the world, he was probably preparing a legal defense against Robert Mueller’s fraud and tax evasion charges.)
Eventually, Senior stopped coming. Someone called, and found he was bedridden. A few larger souls among us visited, and held meeting at his bedside. They had my blessing, but not my presence. He died soon after. I presume he was not cremated.
One day at the turn of the Nineties, I got a strange phone call. It was from James Bevel. I had not seen Bevel since about 1968, when he was working with others from Dr. King’s staff, after King’s murder, on King’s last drive, the tragically ill-fated Poor Peoples Washington Campaign.
After the Poor Peoples Campaign failure, much of Dr. King’s inner circle scattered, including Bevel. He seemed at loose ends for awhile, partly because his reputation as an obsessive seducer made him unwelcome in many places, and partly because during the Washington Campaign, his preaching often veered from the movement to the bizarre. (There are samples of this in my book about the Poor Peoples Campaign, Uncertain Resurrection. )
Then he turned up working for a project financed by Rev. Sun Young Moon’s Unification Church. That somehow led to him being put in charge of an unofficial “investigation” into lurid charges of a satanic child abuse ring, which was allegedly based in Omaha, Nebraska, but serviced powerful pedophiles as far away as Washington DC.
The Omaha “investigation” was supported by a LaRouche group. Yet the charges of satanic child abuse were soon thrown out of court, and Bevel left town. But he stayed with LaRouche for some time. When LaRouche ran for president in 1992 from his prison cell, his standard was carried on the outside by his vice-presidential candidate — James Bevel. (That year they published a paperback manifesto, The Larouche-Bevel Program to Save the Nation, Reversing 30 Years of Post-Industrial Suicide. Reportedly Bevel operated from an apartment near LaRouche’s estate headquarters in Leesburg. One wonders whether, given the open racism that pervaded LaRouchian rhetoric and ideology, how Bevel fit in with that cadre.
When Bevel called me, he had a declaration and a question: the declaration was that he had reformed his seducing ways, and was atoning for damage done. I wished hm godspeed in that personal work, but wasn’t sure I believed him.
The question was: would I ghostwrite his autobiography? He’d pay me, though amounts were not specified.
It didn’t take me long to decline the offer. Surely, somebody should tell his story, in its full complexity and often harrowing detail. And withal, I still admired what he had achieved in Selma and with Dr. King. But what on earth had led him into LaRouche’s orbit?
I was not the one to write this. There was too much else that I knew, or had credibly learned. I had too much baggage, too many scars, from it all. Did I even have the talent or wisdom to do the job? Besides, as queasy as much of what I already knew made me, my gut sensed that this was not the end of the story. I wished him well, and hung up the phone with a trembling hand.
This time, my intuition was right. If Bevel’s satyriasis was changing then, it still had a way to go. I learned this almost eighteen years later — good years for forgetting about LaRouche.
In May, 2007, I was in North Carolina, directing a Quaker peace project near Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases. With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars still taking their bloody toll, and the news of CIA and other American torture implicating units there and nearby, we were plenty busy.
In May, 2007, Bevel was living in Greene County, in the Alabama “Black Belt,” with his fourth wife, Erica, and a young daughter. Late that month he was arrested in Eutaw, the county seat, and charged with committing incest with his daughter about fifteen years earlier. The charge came from a grand jury in Loudoun County, Virginia, where the state has no statute of limitations on such offenses. The daughter who filed the charge had been a teenager when it allegedly happened, in the apartment near the LaRouche headquarters in Leesburg.
Bevel went on trial in April 2008. There he acknowledged having fathered no less than sixteen children with seven different women, four of whom he had married. Several of his daughters attended the trial, and told reporters he had done the same with them, while claiming that the incest was actually education for adulthood and marriage. The daughter who had brought the charge was a Virginia resident. Following news reports, many other women, unrelated to him, called the prosecutor’s office to say Bevel had similarly exploited them.
One reporter, at least, wondered if Bevel was still associated with the LaRouche organization; but they had learned how to stonewall, and did not return phone calls.
Bevel was convicted on April 11, 2008. The jury, after only three hours of deliberation, recommended he get 15 years. He was taken to jail pending formal sentencing, set for October.
Soon I received a letter from Bevel’s wife, Erica. She pleaded with me to write to the judge, asking for a shorter sentence, based on his civil rights record.
I was taken aback. After hemming and hawing, I said I’d think about it. This was a textbook case of sorting a deeply mixed record: his civil rights work had improved the lives of millions. His dedication to it was, I still felt, sincere. He had been with King at the Memphis motel when an assassin’s rifle shot killed him. I believe Bevel would have jumped in front of King and taken that bullet if he could have.
Yet I was also not at all surprised that all his years of sexual recklessness had finally caught up with him. And by then I had three daughters. Had I agreed to ghostwrite his autobiography, I’d have been working on it in the years when abuse of his daughters (and likely others) was continuing. The nightmare scenarios wrote themselves.
After the trial, one of Bevel’s daughters told a reporter: “I’m very proud to be the daughter of a man who contributed so much to the world through his civil rights work . . . I am equally devastated and disgusted by his pedophilia.”
That summed up my reaction. Ultimately I did write to the judge, and said I could neither justify nor diminish what he had been convicted of. But I could speak of his accomplishments on behalf of millions whose lives were improved by his civil rights work, though few ever knew his name. I asked that he take that into consideration. I wasn’t speaking of justice here; that was done. This was about mercy.
I don’t think my letter was the only one. However many, they made no difference. At the October sentencing hearing, the fifteen years was affirmed.
But at that hearing, Bevel had news of his own. He told the judge that following the trial, he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had since spread to his liver. Doctors gave him only a few weeks or months to live. He asked for probation, to enter hospice care.
The prosecutor demurred: “We know that the defendant is dying,” she said. “Everyone dies. This defendant should die in jail.” Justice yes; mercy no.
They took him back to his cell. He was released three weeks later, for poor health, and died on December 19, 2008 at the home of another daughter.
In the biblical Book of Eccesiastes, a narrator called Koheleth offers a sour observation in Chapter 8:
11 Why do people commit crimes so readily? Because crime is not punished quickly enough. 12 A sinner may commit a hundred crimes and still live. Oh yes, I know what they say: “If you obey God, everything will be all right, 13 but it will not go well for the wicked. Their life is like a shadow and they will die young, because they do not obey God.”
14 But this is nonsense. Look at what happens in the world: sometimes the righteous get the punishment of the wicked, and the wicked get the reward of the righteous. I say it is all vanity. . . .
16 Whenever I tried to become wise and learn what goes on in the world, I realized that you could stay awake night and day 17 and never be able to understand what God is doing. However hard you try, you will never find out.
The wise may claim to know, but they don’t.
Lyndon Larouche managed to live to be 96. Since that last trial, I’ve done a pretty good job forgetting him. I hope to return to it soon.
Memories of Bevel, though, will be harder to banish.